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As promised in last week’s blog, I’m giving you the first story of three that I read as part of the Windup Bird Cafe’s evening, Writes of Passage: Love and a Sense of Place, held on November 27, 2014.

Christmas Eve: A Place of Love and Loss

The snow that had fallen a couple of days before had already turned into sooty grey piles as I drove my car along Bloor Street, in the west end of the city. Helen was quiet beside me, concentrating on finding the turn off that would take us down to the river. She knew how to get to the place on foot but not by car. She had to pull the location of the right street from the long-ago memory of when she lived around here.

We rode in silence. We were on a mission of the heart that left no room for chit chat or music from the radio.

It was Christmas Eve. My birthday. I had asked Helen if she wanted to go out to lunch with me, my treat. I had long ago stopped waiting for others to invite me out for a celebration on the actual day. “Why don’t we go the week before or the week after,” they’d say, “or in the new year?” I got tired of explaining that I, like most people, enjoyed celebrating my birthday on my birthday. At some point, I had stopped all explanations and just began to take myself out for lunch.It was easier that way.

When I had asked Helen, she had looked at me with sad, open eyes and said, “I can’t. It’s the 10 year anniversary. I have to go there.” I knew where she meant, and I knew I couldn’t let her do that alone, not on Christmas Eve.

We meandered our way through back streets of a neighbourhood I didn’t know. Christmas lights blinked here and there through hedges and tree-filled lawns but we weren’t into the fa la la la la of the season. I could tell we were getting close as the road sloped down and down and then, there, at the bottom, the road met the river. I parked and glanced at Helen to see how she was. She stared out of the front window and then, like she had received permission, she opened the door. Our ritual was about to begin.

As soon as I got out of the car I knew from the very air around me that this was a holy place. It was quiet — so so quiet. The snow here was still fresh, except for zig-zagging paths where animals had made their way. I wanted to just sit here and listen to the river and be still. But Helen was already moving towards one particular bench. “Is this the one,” I whispered. She nodded yes. Then I took out the one little tea light I had stuck in my pocket before I left home and sat it on the bench and lit it. The flame stayed lit, which I took as a sign that this holy place was filled with spirits and angels and all the good saints who would keep our light going. Then Helen and I each took handfuls of the dried, faded rose petals she had kept from the funeral and began to sprinkle them around and around that bench, down to the river, among the forest of trees until there were no more left.

I sensed that it was time for me to walk further down the riverbank and leave this mother alone to grieve in private for her young son who ten years before had sat down on that bench and decided that his pain was too much, too much. He picked the most beautiful place from his childhood to say goodbye all by himself. I like to think that he also thought of his mother when he came down here by the river to let go of life. I’m sure he knew that she, with all her enormous love for him, would be visiting with him on these special days. And she would need this beauty and his spirit here to keep on living.